Local News

Lawmakers consider spending on probation system

Posted October 7, 2008 12:06 p.m. EDT
Updated October 7, 2008 7:06 p.m. EDT

— State probation officials say salaries for probation officers are not competitive and that better pay is needed to attract employees and help reduce a high turnover rate among officers.

"You are looking at $31,000 to start as a college graduate with no work experience," Division of Community Corrections Director Robert Guy told North Carolina lawmakers who met Tuesday to discuss how to allot $2.5 million from the state budget to the state's troubled probation system.

Among the 1,040 intermediate-level probation officers who work with high-risk offenders, Guy said 24 have reached a mid-grade pay of $40,000 or more after years of service.

In comparison, he said, some local law enforcement agencies begin new employee salaries at approximately $37,000.

Higher salaries was among 35 recommendations earlier this year from the National Institute of Corrections, which reviewed probation issues after the deaths of Duke University graduate student Abhijit Mahato and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill senior Eve Marie Carson.

George Keiser, the NIC's chief of community corrections, agreed with Guy, saying hiring was key to improving the system.

"If the salaries don't keep pace, the prospects are dismal," he said. He recommended raising starting pay, training for officers and applying standardized procedures.

But higher pay rates would require action by state lawmakers and are not part of the $2.5 million earmarked to improve staffing, tracking and processes.

What is, however, is more than $1.7 million per year to hire an additional 20 intermediate probation officers and six supervisors, state Secretary of Correction Theodis Beck said.

The remainder of the money would be spent on a mentoring program within the department and on additional software and training to improve employees' efficiency.

Legislators are heard an update on efforts on integrating court records and data so law enforcement and probation officers and the court system have access to the same information.

The state is buying $2 million in software from SAS for a pilot program in Wake County that is expected to be launched by May 1.

There's no timeline, however, for it to go statewide.

Keiser and Beck both also said that better access to juvenile records would help probation officers manage offenders as they transition into the adult criminal system.

That was part of the problem with Laurence Alvin Lovette, 17, one of the suspects in Carson's and Mahato's shooting deaths. He and Demario James Atwater, 22, also charged in Carson's death, were on probation at the time they were arrested.

Probation officers had overlooked each suspect, according to an internal review of how their cases were handled.